Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life

By Jane Jacobs

I loved Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, and this looks similarly interesting, focusing more particularly on the economic forces that shape cities, and on the large scale systems that fuel cities as engines for growth and productivity.

This book is a “diagnosis of the decay of cities in an increasingly integrated world economy” and is “wonderfully concrete” for a work of theory.

The structure is more one long essay than textbook, and it’s hard to synopsize or glean a quick impression without skimming the entire book. Subjects (from the table of contents) include: “supply regions” and “transplant regions”, technology and capital, “bypassed places”, feedback, decline, drift.

To take Chapter 1 as a perhaps-representative example, we find themes of: theory vs. reality of failed economic development schemes; insidious economic paradoxes; a brief history of complex economic problems. The book seems aimed at answering, or at least explaining, such problems, which is a heady and worthy goal.

I’m not entirely sure how this book fits in with the larger picture of Jacobs’ work; how it relates to, for example, her book The Economy of Cities, with which I often confuse this one. But I find the intersection of economics and urbanism incredibly interesting, and this book looks to be a cogent exploration of such complex interactions and more.


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